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Issue #1452      28 April 2010

Call to action for workplace safety

On this day, April 28, workers around the world commemorate those who have been killed or injured on the job. At the same time we fight for better safety laws to protect workers and ensure more lives are not lost.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), across the world:

  • Each year, more than two million women and men die as a result of work-related accidents and diseases.
  • Workers suffer approximately 270 million occupational accidents each year, and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of work-related illnesses.
  • Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos claims 100,000 lives.
  • One worker dies every 15 seconds –worldwide. 6,000 workers die every day.
  • Work kills more people than wars.

The carnage in Australian workplaces has vindicated unions who have warned about the poor safety laws of all federal and state governments.

The number of fatalities continues to rise. If workplace fatality rates had remained at 2004 levels 50 fewer lives would have been lost.

Workers put their trust in the Rudd government to restore basic rights lost under the Howard government. They have been sadly disappointed. On workplace health and safety the Rudd government continues to carry through measures directed against working people and in direct favour of the employers and big business. This is particularly so in relation to the continuation of the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Rudd’s new “model” work safety legislation is designed to cut employer obligations and costs. The ALP’s proposed legislation undermines the rights of elected OH&S reps to direct cease-works that avert workplace deaths and forces workers to first exhaust “resolution” procedures with management unless the risk is ?serious, immediate and imminent”.

Often when productivity is impeded employers refuse to admit that issues are ?serious, immediate and imminent” causing seriously dangerous workplace activity. Unions need unfettered right of entry for union officials to avert the unsafe practices of greedy employers who place productivity before the lives of working class people.


In 1991 the Canadian government passed legislation declaring each April 28 “a day of remembrance for workers killed or injured at work.” Recognition of this “Workers’ Memorial Day” spread, and it was adopted internationally via the United Nations in 1996. Now the day is marked in countries all around the world. Unions are now calling on all Australian governments to give recognition and support to this day.

The horrendous toll in Australia

Every year in Australia around 440 workers are killed in work-related accidents (that equates to more than eight per week). Diseases such as cancer and asbestos related illnesses cause an estimated 2,300 additional deaths per year (or 44 a week). Road accidents in Australia claim about 30 lives per week.

End the horrendous toll

The Communist Party of Australia calls for:

  • That all workers and their unions intensify the struggle against the ABCC until it is scrapped.
  • That all workers and their Unions take industrial action if Ark Tribe or any other construction worker be jailed under the powers of the ABCC.
  • That all workers and their unions fight for stronger OH&S laws including Industrial Manslaughter Laws.
  • Workplace victims in all states and territories be able to initiate legal action and the onus should be on an employer to prove they provided a safe workplace.
  • In the harmonisation process of all state and federal OH&S laws the best of each jurisdiction should be used to provide workers with the highest common denominator in safety not the lowest.

Call on the Rudd government to scrap the heinous Australian Building and Construction Commission ABCC, not just rename it!

The ABCC continues to harass all workers in the construction industry. They target Occupational Health and Safety representatives and union delegates in particular. Despite work related injuries and fatalities increasing, stopping work, even in unsafe workplaces, is illegal. Massive fines aimed at crippling workers and their unions remain a constant threat.

Construction is up with road transport, mining and maritime as one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. The carnage must stop and the targeting of the construction industry in particular must stop.

What you can do

By scrapping the ABCC construction unions will once again be allowed to act on the workers’ behalf to ensure building companies are complying with mandatory safety requirements.

Go to where you can:

  1. Send emails to Kevin Rudd and your local MP
  2. Sign the petition
  3. Email the campaign information to your friends and colleagues
  4. Watch a series of short videos, including stories by those who’ve been penalised under the unjust and corrupt ABCC processes.

Rights on site

Self-regulation does not work. Employers will not work in the interest of workers if it impedes profit. The bottom line is workers can die and lip service will be paid BUT the reality is employers will not concede safety without struggle.

Resolve to struggle for safe work.

Laws should protect building workers, not persecute them, said the ILO.

Unions have welcomed a new report that says the ABCC is in breach of international laws and fails to protect workers.

The annual report of the ILO Committee of Experts is an indictment of laws which discriminate against construction workers, the ACTU said.

“International industrial laws are intended to protect the rights of workers, not persecute them,” said ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence.

“Yet this is precisely what the ABCC does. Overwhelmingly, the ABCC has investigated and prosecuted workers rather than employers. This has wasted millions of dollars, while health and safety in the construction industry has not improved.

“There should be one set of laws for all workers, regardless of the industry they work in. We remain absolutely opposed to the continuation of coercive powers that impinge upon the civil liberties and the right to be members of a union. Now the ILO has backed these concerns. Parliament needs to get its act together and abolish the ABCC and coercive powers for the construction industry,” said the ACTU secretary.

In its report, the ILO’s Committee of Experts said the ABCC was likely to be in breach of a number of international labour standards, including freedom of association, the right to organise and collective bargaining.

The report said:

“The Committee considers that the prosecution of workers does not constitute part of the primary duties of inspectors and may not only seriously interfere with the effective discharge of their primary duties – which should be centred on the protection of workers under Article 3 of the Convention – but also prejudice the authority and impartiality necessary in the relations between inspectors and employers and workers”.

The ABCC was set up by the Howard government as an industrial police force to attack workers and until it is abolished, part of WorkChoice lives on.

“The ABCC undermines the rights of 900,000 hard working Australians who every day risk their lives on building sites around the nation and play a major role in driving the economy”, said the ACTU.

“All government law enforcement agencies should be focused on policing safety and workplace rights, not prosecuting workers for exercising their workplace rights.”  

Next article – Editorial – The need for a human rights bill

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